The FDFA in cooperation with swisspeace has developed an overall conceptual approach in the field of dealing with the past at both the national and international levels on the basis of the Joinet Principles. This Dealing with the Past approach, stems from the "Principles against impunity", developed by Louis Joinet, which were approved in 1997 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in recognition of the rights of victims and the obligations of States in the fight against impunity when massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have taken place.

Since 2003, Switzerland has been resolutely committed to activities concerning dealing with the past within the framework of its human security, peace promotion, human rights and humanitarian policies. The Principles against impunity call for combined initiatives to ensure the realization of these rights and obligations in the following areas: the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparation, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. This takes the form of fact-finding commissions, truth (and reconciliation) commissions, national, hybrid, special and international courts (such as the International Criminal Court), programmes to rehabilitate and compensate victims, institutional reform measures, and institutional vetting measures. Lastly, highly symbolic actions, such as public apologies or the erection of monuments to victims and resistance fighters are very important elements in remembrance efforts, both at the individual and collective levels.

Dealing with the Past Framework

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In accordance with this framework, the DwP Course promotes a holistic understanding of Dealing with the Past. This model places an emphasis on initiatives and instruments to address the needs of victims and the accountability of perpetrators, but also recognizes the contribution of these instruments and policies to a longer-term societal process of conflict transformation. Accordingly, the DwP Course stresses the development of comprehensive, inclusive, and gender-sensitive strategies for DwP, focusing on linkages between activities in the following areas:

The Right to Know

 The right to know the truth and the duty to remember involve both the individual right of victims and their families to learn the truth about what happened to them or their loved ones and the collective right of society to know the truth about past events and circumstances which led to gross human rights violations. These are an important part of the necessary measures to prevent the risk of human rights violations recurring.

In addition, it involves an obligation on the part of the State to undertake measures to preserve the collective memory and so to guard against the development of revisionist arguments. The most frequently used instrument to ensure this right is the extra-judicial commission of inquiry, also known as truth and reconciliation commissions. Their two-fold purpose is to dismantle the administrative machinery that has led to abuses in the past in order to ensure that they do not recur and to preserve evidence for the judiciary. The second measure often entails documentation and the preservation of archives relating to grave human rights violations.

The Right to Justice

The right to justice and the duty to investigate and to prosecute imply that any victim can assert his or her rights and receive fair and effective remedy for abuses suffered. This includes the expectation that the person or persons responsible will be held accountable to the law and that reparations will be forthcoming. It also entails the obligation on the part of the State to investigate violations, to arrest and to prosecute the perpetrators and, if their guilt is established, to punish them.

The Right to Reparation

The right to reparation, both at the individual level and in collective forms, entails individual measures for victims and their relatives or dependants such as:

Collective measures of reparation involve symbolic acts such as annual tributes of homage to the victims or public recognition by the State of its responsibility, which help to discharge the duty of remembrance and help restore victims’ dignity.

The guarantee of non-recurrence

The guarantee of non-recurrence includes vetting/lustration and institutional reform. It emphasizes the need to disband para-military armed groups (DDR), to reform security institutions, repeal emergency laws, and to remove officials from office who are implicated in serious human rights violations following a fair and transparent procedure. It also foresees the reform of state institutions in accordance with the norms of good governance and the rule of law.